The Hold Steady

Club Run, Saturday 21st May, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  114 km / 71 miles with 1,056 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 9 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.4 km/h

Group size:                                         24 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    19°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and passably warm

Main topic of conversation at the start:

I’d donated a pair of arm warmers to Taffy Steve because they were far too big for my puny, spindly arms and just a tiny bit too tight to even wear on my legs. He modelled them for his ride in and wondered what kind of idiot needed a big L and R on each cuff so they would know which arm to put them on.

I held out both my arms so he could see the corresponding L and R on the cuffs of my sleeves and explained this was even worse because these weren’t individual arm warmers, but a long sleeved base layer, with a logo on the front breast, a label inside the back and a scooped neck at the front so you know exactly which way to put it on. Or maybe not.

This left us wondering if cyclists could be unintentionally set up as the sporting equivalent of the dumb blonde. It reminded Taffy Steve of awful Irish “comedian” Jimmy Cricket who featured in The Krankies Klub with The Krankies and Bobby Davro. Now there’s a Iine-up that could still make me break me out in a cold sweat.

As well as lame catchphrases, Jimmy Cricket was of course famous for wearing wellies with a big L and R incised on the front, but wait, there’s more, as he hilariously wore these on the wrong feet. I know, side-splittingly funny.

This in turn reminded me of a very old and fetid joke about C&A knickers, but let’s not go there and then lead to completely unfounded speculation that posited OGL as the Bernard Manning of the local cycling club scene.

With the weather being a bit of a lottery as to how much rain we might get and exactly when, Crazy Legs revealed he’d packed his non-waterproof waterproof. Taffy Steve was imminently disdainful of any waterproof jacket and explained he must be putting them on inside out as the outside would remain dry, while the inside quickly became sodden.

An interesting article about changing cycling club culture that the Hammer had posted on our Faecesbook page caused a little, but in my mind not enough debate. I may yet have to return to this topic, much like a dog to its own vomit.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Crazy Legs revealed someone had invented a pump integrated into a seat tube, but of course you had to dismantle half of your bike to access it. It apparently weighs in at a measly 718g and is yours for a mere $50 plus P&P.


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We decided the design could be improved if it worked in situ, the piston action perhaps providing a degree of suspension to smooth out a few bumps in the road. Even better if it was always connected and the bumps inflated your tyres as you rolled along. The problem then of course would be that on the horribly rutted and potted roads around here you would very quickly inflate your tyres beyond rock hard and unrideable, right up to spectacular blow out levels.

Thoughts turned to the Giro and I suggested (wrongly as it turns out) that no one with a team in our club fantasy Giro league had selected Valverde. Crazy Legs suggested this was because no one liked the wheel-sucking, drug-cheating, play-it-safe, selfish and unrepentant-doper, not even his own Movistar team mates.

He cited an early stage in the Giro when Visconti wouldn’t leave a breakaway in order to help his supposed leader, feigning radio problems before blatantly arguing with his DS and adamantly refusing to drop back to help.

There was further speculation that Valverde was so unpopular he didn’t have any friends on Faecesbook, no connections on Linked-In and no followers on Strava.

Crazy Legs complained his team of fantasy picks had been systematically decimated, his bad luck particularly epitomised by J.C. Peraud, simultaneously riding both his first and very last Giro, given joint team-leadership responsibilities and not even surviving long enough to ride a single metre on Italian roads.

This in turn brought up discussions about the proposed Giro 2018 start in Japan and how long a rest would be needed to recover from a 14-hour transfer. As a solution we came up with the idea of twinning – one rider completing the first few overseas stages before handing over to another rider to finish things off.

We then decided it would be more fun if the riders were “twinned” by lottery and it would be interesting to see who they were paired with and their reactions when the draw was made, for example when an overall contender had to rely on say Marcel Kittel to climb the 3,778 metres up Mount Fuji.

I suggested the riders could actually pick their twins, like choosing sides for a playground kick around and how informative it would be to see who was last man selected. Crazy Legs though scolded me for being silly, as it was obvious who would be the last man picked: the ever unpopular Alejandro Valverde obviously.

He then caught Son of G-Dawg fiddling with his phone and accused him of being caught quickly and surreptitiously unfriending Valverde on Faecesbook. We waited for the phone to ring and a Spanish accented voice start to plead with Son of G-Dawg not to follow through with the unfriending –  but sadly it never happened. Perhaps Balaverde (the Green Bullet) had other things on his mind at the time?


Ride profile 21 May
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Despite having everything set out and sorted the night before, I found myself strangely short of time and dashing around early Saturday morning trying to get ready and out the door to ensure a timely arrival at the meeting point. It wasn’t to be and leaving over 10 minutes behind my usual schedule, I considered shortening my route, but thought if I just pushed a little faster than normal I could still make it before we set off for our regular and prompt 9.00 o’clock start (i.e. at 9.20 on the nose).

I dropped quickly down the hill and turned straight into a headwind that had me even more concerned and gave a little extra impetus and no small measure of unwelcome resistance to my charge. My usual early morning ramble now had a measure of urgency that saw me crouched low over the bike and trying to keep a high cadence.

With one eye on the time display of my Garmin, I passed the 8.42-mile mark (which I knew I’d hit at exactly 8:42 a couple of weeks back when I was on schedule) and checked to find it was only 8:35. I’d somehow made up the missing 10 plus minutes, gained another 5 and was now in danger of being much too early. I dialled the intensity back to a more, steady pace I could actually hold, but not before I’d set 4 Strava PR’s with my efforts.

For the day I’d chosen the most extreme version of kit matching imaginable to go with my black, red and yellow bike with the Lion of Flanders bar end plugs, yellow and black Vitorria Corsa tyres and carefully selected black red and yellow, BMC/PowerBar water bottle. This consisted of a Planet X Flanders jersey and shorts in yellow, black and red emblazoned with the Lion of Flanders, my new, very, very shiny, very, very red and very, very plasticky Chinese shoes and yellow socks also emblazoned with a black Lion of Flanders.


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Is this going too far?

The whole was topped off with a new Carnac aero helmet in black, yellow and red which, just to change things up a little, was emblazoned with the Lion of Flanders across the crown. According to one of my esteemed work colleagues this makes me look like an angry wasp, although I prefer to think the look is more akin to a benevolent, bumbling bee.

Lots of people … I was going to say complimented me, but I think just commented on my kit choice is the more accurate description. They did however all suggest I was at the very least “well co-ordinated.” There you go, I’m not the best rider in the club, nor the fastest, nor even the most stylish, but just for this one day I was the most co-ordinated and at my age you’ve got to take your victories where you can find them.

Crazy Legs suggested the whole look was ruined because my sunglasses didn’t match and I had to sheepishly admit I had some in a fetching shade of black, red and yellow on order, they just hadn’t arrived yet. Hmm, there’s a book called obsessive compulsive cycling disorder, isn’t there? I wonder if it’s catching…


 

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The anointed time arrived and 24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out under intermittingly bright and sunny skies and occasionally dark, overcast patchwork cloud. All the weather forecasts had predicted that we were likely to see rain at some point during the day, the only question was exactly when and with what intensity and duration.

I completed the first part of the ride alongside the Monkey Butler Boy, fresh from conquering the Wooler Wheel and growing fast. Too fast. I’ve tried to persuade the Red Max to stop feeding him, but apparently he has well-honed foraging instincts and is surprisingly feral.

At one point we were split with cars in between the gaps and stopped at a junction to regroup. It was here that we learned we’d lost Szell, who had turned for home after only a few miles with no indication of why he’d abandoned. Perhaps he was just disappointed our intended route didn’t involve an ascent of Middleton Bank.

Pretty much from the re-start I found myself on the front with Caracol where the wind became particularly noticeable and occasionally head-on and energy sapping. Nonetheless we pushed things along at a steady pace until we reached one of our traditional places to stop and split the group.


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The Red Max tried to persuade the Monkey Butler Boy that the long route was actually the shortest way to the café. Armed with a keen sense of mistrust, perhaps common in many father-son relationships, but I suspect especially well-honed between this pair, the Monkey Butler Boy wasn’t buying it. Perhaps remembering the “shorter, easier route” that took in the Ryals a few week past, he needed a great deal of persuading to accompany the longer, harder, faster group and a bit of bribery as well, managing to offload his rain cape from his own back pocket onto his dad.

At one point we passed by what I can best describe as a dead duck in the middle of the road, (it was a duck and it was indeed dead) though it looked surprisingly intact. Disappointingly there was no one within our ranks to claim the carcase.

The pace increased as we approached the Quarry Climb and when Andeven spun away up the outside with Caracol in pursuit, I accelerated to follow, cresting the climb to find Crazy Legs in close attendance on my rear wheel, apparently just in case I tried a long, long break for home!


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I had time for a brief chat with Aveline, who’d had her rear wheel fixed and was pleased to find it no longer sounded like a bag of loose spanners, or made her feel seasick with the constant wobbling and then the pace started to build for the run to the café.

A sudden burst off the front saw a gap opening and with a massive effort, out of the saddle with the bike skipping and bouncing, I managed to bridge as last man across as we fractured into two groups.  I hung on as riders rotated off the front, an improvised paceline that whipped the speed up even higher.

Crazy Legs rolled back from his stint at the spearhead and slotted in front of me, while Son of G-Dawg charged off the front. Moscas tried surging up the inside, but couldn’t close the gap and we slowly crept up and then parallel with him.

Crazy Legs now manoeuvred so he was riding practically down the white line to try and find the least damaged piece of road surface. It helped, but not by much, as wheels continued to bounce and everything shook viciously.

I moved to overtake him, but was straying into the opposite lane and a car, still quarter of a mile away took exception and started flashing his lights furiously. Being sensible for once and realising my overtaking speed was likely to be akin to glacial creep, I eased, slipped back and tucked in again.

The car swept past and I tried once more, hitting the front of the pack just behind the front runners in time to sit up and ease back for the Snake Bends. As usual, great fun mixed with a little danger and some pure exhilaration.

From the café Taffy Steve again found himself leading the charge home and opted to pull over and let someone else batter ahead into the wind. I was still feeling good so joined Sneaky Pete on the front, trying to contain his over-exuberance and try and limit the number of “Steady!” cries we were generating from behind.

At one point he suggested, “Steady’s all you’ll ever get from me” I would have laughed, but I was too out of breath trying to keep pace with his incessant half-wheeling. Retired folk these days eh? You just can’t control them.

I actually thought we did a damn fine job pulling everyone home to the point when half turned off and the rest were able to slingshot around us and charge down the Mad Mile.

A good ride and the rain never did manage to catch us, but it’ll have to keep me going for a week or two as I head off on holiday. How inconvenient. No doubt I’ll miss more vintage runs full of of fun and frivolity and, who knows maybe even a welcome return for Captain America. Enjoy the peace.

I’ll be back…


YTD Totals: 2,932 km / 1,821 miles with 28,170 metres of climbing

Sturm und Drang … or Hail and Pace


Club Run, Saturday 13th February, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   105 km/65 miles with 1,030 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 38 minutes

Average Speed:                                   22.6 km/h

Group size:                                           13 riders, no FNG’s

Temperature:                                      4°C

Weather in a word or two:              Like riding through a slushie

Main topic of conversation at the start:

G-Dawg turned up replete with the bright blue oven gloves again, but having swapped out the carpet-felt muffler for knee-high hiking gaiters. I can’t decide if this is an inspired choice of winter accoutrements or just plain odd. Maybe if the gaiters had Castelli emblazoned across them I would be more accepting?

Crazy Legs wondered if the oven gloves were there so G-Dawg could help out in the kitchen at the café, but even professionally equipped, I didn’t think there was a hope in hell they’d let him anywhere near the bacon and egg pies as they emerged hot from the oven.

Unbelievably the weather mid-week had been so good that G-Dawg had felt the need to unleash his good bike and had temporarily hung up the winter fixie for the Wednesday run out. He managed to enjoy his freewheelin’ fun, despite an unadvisable tendency to try and slow down by simply adding a bit of pressure to the pedals.  Where was that good weather now?

Crazy Legs told us a salutary tale of steppin’ out to see Joe Jackson in concert, deciding to miss the support act in favour of a pint or three, and then turning up to find Mr. Jackson already on stage and mid-song, halfway through his set as there had been no support act.

Crazy Legs therefore missed the iconic “Different for Girls” but I assume caught “Steppin’ Out” and “Is She Really Going Out with Him” – and sadly that’s just about where my limited knowledge of the Joe Jackson oeuvre ends, although I always coveted a pair of those cool, Cuban-heeled, side-laced pointy-toed Beatle boots that adorned one of his early albums. Maybe in a more utilitarian black not white though, after all I’m not a total fop.


 

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Anyway, Crazy Legs saw enough of the show to highly recommend it and I’ll be taking heed of his warnings not to arrive late for my hugely anticipated trip to see the mighty Shearwater in some pokey hole on the banks of the Tyne later this month.

Readying ourselves to ride out we held back as we noticed a late arriving cyclist carefully weaving his way through the traffic and street furniture toward us. “Who’s that?” someone asked.

“Craig?”

“No…”

“Josh?”

“No…”

“It’s that Scottish feller” Crazy Legs finally determined

“Yeah,” I agreed, “The one from Ireland.”

Oh hell, I guess they’re all Celts, aren’t they?

 

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

As we reached the café my lobster mitts finally succumbed to the weather and cold water began to seep through their linings. We decided that the holy grail for cyclists were fully waterproof gloves, which seem to be an impossible dream, although G-Dawg did suggest a pair of Marigolds. Of course we agreed these would need a little Sharpie branding to make them acceptable to cyclists, but someone got there before us …


 

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It amused me when I Googled “cycling Marigolds” and found a great picture by photographer Steve Fleming of one of our youngsters scaling Hardknott Pass during last years Fred Whitton Challenge, all the while sporting yellow gloves that the photographer purports are in fact Marigolds. I’m not wholly convinced they were, but must remember to ask.

Motor-doping was back on the agenda, along with how an engine could be so difficult to detect. I suggested the UCI set off an electro-magnetic pulse halfway up an Alpine climb, just to see who then keeled over as their motors died a sudden and brutal death. My Strava-enamoured companions were somewhat horrified by my blasphemous suggestion that someone might deliberately fritz their beloved Garmin’s.

Talk of advances in bike technology led to reminiscing about the past, when specialist winter clothing wasn’t readily available for cyclists. OGL recalled wearing old-fashioned motorcycle gauntlets with a big flared cuff, which we decided would also be suitable for a bit of on-bike falconry. Never mind motor-doping, if you could tether an Eagle Owl or Andean Condor to your bike think how many more watts you could generate? And how cool would you look in the process.

We then indulged in a wide-ranging conversation that wrapped around cycling books, old-style, rock-hard chamois leather inserts, saddle sores and the Laurent Fignon and Lance Armstrong books. OGL mentioned the traditional method of alleviating the pain of saddle sores was to cut a hole in your saddle, or ride with raw steak down your shorts.

We speculated that when Fignon lost the 1989 Tour to LeMond by an agonising 8 seconds he may have ridden the final and decisive time-trial with steak down his shorts to ease the suffering and unbearable pain from his saddle-sores.

In an “if only” moment, Son of G-Dawg suggested Fignon may have gained a small measure of consolation and revenge if he’d proffered the used steak to his victor as some sort of rare, ultra-exotic, specially prepared, luxury dish, which LeMond would unwittingly have consumed after it had been carefully tenderised by the Frenchman’s thudding backside, basted in saddle sore secretions and liberally marinated in butt sweat –a “filet fignon” if you will. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

In a discussion about under-age drinking, OGL claimed to be in the Percy Arms and playing on their darts team at the exact time Kennedy was shot. Personally I thought it was a bit suspicious that he went to such lengths just to establish an alibi.

We also learned that both Crazy Legs and G-Dawg are strangely discomfited by the sound of cotton wool tearing. I just don’t think I’m empathic and mature enough, or have the proper medical and psychological training to properly respond to such a heartfelt revelation and strange revulsion …


 

Ride 13 Feb
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Strava highlighted the ride temperature in blue once I’d finished, so I’m guessing it was officially cold out there by any measure and way beyond one of Carlton’s Cold Hand Days. Despite this I woke to find the curtains sharply silhouetted against an unexpected brightness from outside. Ever the pessimist my first thoughts were that I was either a target for an attempted alien abduction, or winter had returned with a vengeance and the light was bouncing off a deep, pristine layer of snow.

Thankfully I looked out to find the garden free of both extra-terrestrial lifeforms and snow and although the ground was wet there didn’t appear to be any frost or ice. Time to ride.

Even with the initial brightness it still looked cold, so I dressed accordingly, two long sleeved base layers, jersey and jacket, digging out the massive and ridiculous (but warm!) lobster mitts.

By the time I’d breakfasted and made it outside the initial brightness had been smothered by dark and threatening clouds. A quick check of the bike, a topping up of tyre pressures and I was dropping down the hill to the valley and straight into the teeth of a sharp, stinging hailstorm.

With the hail bouncing audibly off my helmet I stopped to pull my waterproof jacket over everything else and once on it never returned to my pocket for rest of the ride.

The shower passed to leave the air still and strangely hushed, seeming to carry and amplify the odd, random sound. There was the occasional whisk-whisk of tyre on mudguard, a ripping noise as I cut through random puddles and the low, ominous hum of power cables strung high over the road.

From somewhere unseen seagulls greeted me with a chorus of raucous shrieking. Did this mean the weather over the coast was particularly bad, or just that there were richer pickings to be had amongst the rubbish inland?

Thumbs and toes turned slowly numb and then, even more slowly, recovered as I warmed to the task and started to clamber out of the valley on the other side of the river. With time for a quick pee stop (cold and ancient bladders aren’t a great combination) I arrived at the meeting place with a handful of others, including OGL, slowly recovering from last week’s illness, but not quite there yet.

There were however a couple of noticeable absentees from the “Usual Suspects” who can be relied on to try riding regardless of the weather. I assume the Red Max had finally given up an unequal fight and decided to recuperate properly from his vicious illness, while the seagulls may have had the right of it and sensibly retreated from the coast where it looked like the weather was bad enough to keep Taffy Steve penned up.

It was a small group, a baker’s dozen if you will, who finally pushed off, clipped in and rode out, for once with no lasses present, although we did encounter both Mini Miss and Shouty at various points along our route.

I dropped to my usual position, hovering near the back where I started to chat to the “Scottish-Irish” feller. He’d begun riding with the club before I joined, but had been forced to stop because of family commitments (damn kids!) and had only just started again.

I was surprised to learn he’d actually been in the North East for over 8 years as we still hadn’t managed to knock the corners off his accent. While he could almost convincingly adopt the full Geordie, indignant-dolphin-squeak (well, far more convincingly than the Profs embarrassing Dick Van Dyke type stylings) –his underlying lyrical Irishness gave it a strangely odd and musical quality.

Being a feisty feller he began telling me a tale about confronting a speeding motorist, who’d ended up calling him a “Speccy, Scottish git.” Oh hell, I guess they are all Celts after all.

The blue flashing lights of a police car warned us of trouble ahead and we were forced to creep around a massive recovery vehicle squatting across two thirds of the road. Beside it sat the attendant police car and a battered and scraped silver pick-up truck that looked like it had been driven at high speed through a concrete pipe that was too narrow for its bulk.


 

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Just another obstacle to negotiate

 

I’ve no idea what actually happened, but couldn’t help feeling a degree of satisfaction that at least there was one less of these vehicles on the road. I know I shouldn’t stereotype all drivers based on their cars, but my only encounter with pick-ups has been when some homicidal, willfully careless, red-necked RIM has driven them directly at us too fast down too narrow lanes, with no intention of slowing and even a hint of accelerating toward us.

Having crested the first serious climb of the day we were halted by a puncture and instead of hanging around in the cold, the still-recovering OGL sensibly took this as an opportunity to strike out early and alone for the café.

While we waited for repairs to be effected the heads of state gathered to decide a new route in OGL’s absence. I had a brief chat with beZ to try and determine why he’d given up on the bright purple saddle that provided such a, err, startling contrast shall we say, to his pink bar tape. Apparently, although it might have looked “da bomb” it was too damn uncomfortable.


 

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Mid-ride conference

 

I idly speculated if anyone would ever come up with a heat mouldable saddle you could pop in the oven and then straddle when still hot to form it to your own unique contours. Alternatively, I guess you could just stick a sirloin down your shorts…

We pressed on as the weather began to get a little nasty and the roads a whole lot filthier. Son of G-Dawg pointed out the coating of snow and ice lurking in the grass at the road verges, as we discussed whether we should adopt the athletics ruling on false starts and apply this to punctures – we leave you behind on the second one, even if you were in no way involved in the first.

Almost in direct response the call came up that there had indeed been another puncture and we pulled over to wait before finally deciding to split the group. beZ and Aether went back to help out with the repairs and the remaining nine pressed on.

In horrible sleet and frozen rain we scaled the Trench, negotiated the dip and clamber through Hartburn and suffered the drag and grind from Angerton to Bolam Lake. From here speed started to build as the café beckoned, with Captain Black in fine form and continually driving us along from the front.


 

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Climbing The Trench

 

At the last corner three consecutive fast commutes in a row and the exertions of the day took their toll and I drifted off the back to finir sur la jante and in need of a quick caffeine fix.

Despite being royally beasted in the café sprint, when we hit the climb out of Ogle on the return home, my contrary legs felt suddenly transformed and I floated up it effortlessly.

We were then blasted by a sudden and harsh blizzard of wet stinging snow that lashed down, striking exposed skin like a hundred tiny micro-injections of novocaine which stung and then almost instantly turned flesh numb. With the likelihood of the weather worsening I decided to turn for home early and cut off a few miles by looping over, rather than under the airport.


 

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They all zigged, while I zagged

 

Now I was able to ride at a good pace as if my legs had settled on a steady and comfortable rhythm. I found myself clipping along at a surprising 17-18mph even as the road started to tilt upwards, my momentum only occasionally interrupted when I slowed to wipe occluded lenses clear of the wet, clinging snow.

I took the long, hated grind up past the golf course in the big ring, and kept the pace high right until the descent down to the river. For some reason this winter has been especially hard on brake blocks and here I found braking that had been fine in the morning when I set out had become decidedly sketchy in the cold and wet.

Having trouble scrubbing off speed quickly, I eased gingerly downhill, pulling hard on the brakes all the way, despite the icy flood that welled from my waterlogged gloves every time I squeezed the levers.

Swinging across the river I pushed along until the next hill beckoned where progress was slightly interrupted. I’m usually quite content with the thumb operated shifters on my old Sora groupset, but the combination of cold, wet and numb fingers coupled with bulky lobster mitts meant I couldn’t drop down onto the inner ring without stopping and using my right hand to forcibly click the lever down.

With this task finally, if not smoothly accomplished, I scrabbled quickly up, away from the river and swung left for the last few miles home.

Considering I was carrying what felt like an extra 6 or 7 kilo in my waterlogged socks, gloves and jacket, the climb up the Heinous Hill was relatively accomplished. As I ground up the last but steepest ramp another punishing hail shower swept in, pinging off my helmet with a sound like frozen peas being poured into an empty pan.

Stung into action by the hail, I watched the white streak of one of our cats shoot across the neighbour’s front lawn at high speed before launching himself headfirst through the cat flap and disappearing with a loud clatter.

Shelter seemed like a sensible idea and I swiftly followed, temporarily abandoning the Peugeot in favour of a hot shower with bike drying and cleaning set for some indeterminable future when the weather improved.


YTD Totals: 861 km /535 miles with 8,519 metres of climbing

 

Christmas Cracker turns Crash-Tacular


Club Run, Saturday 19th December, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  100 km/62 miles with 851 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 13 minutes

Group size:                                           24 riders, no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Balmy (and quite barmy)

Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs discovered one drawback of wearing a Christmas jumper over his club jersey: the rear pockets were now inaccessible behind a thick barrier of wool. This led to a collective realisation that there is a serious gap in the market for Christmas-themed cycling apparel.

We thought Rapha were most likely to rise to this challenge with a range of super-tasteful, pure-wool, merino Christmas jumpers -in black perhaps, replete with a dropped-tail, reflective trim, the traditional three back pockets and subtly featuring tiny, tiny turkeys.

We then discussed what would happen if it rained on all the non-lycra wool jumpers, how big they’d be likely to grow and just how heavy they’d be when wet.

Thoughts turned to some crazy gaucho who’d been stalking our forum and Faecesbook page and threatening to come and ride with us on his fixie. OGL had told him firmly not to bother unless he fitted a brake to his bike, as no matter how in control he was, or how accomplished a bike handler there’s the issue of the other 20 or so riders around him.

When the gaucho failed to turn up we assumed he didn’t want to dilute the “purity” of riding a fixie by fitting brakes and had taken umbrage at the restriction. Who knows though, I may be doing him a great disservice and he may be sitting home alone, still struggling to cope with such horribly unfamiliar technology as callipers and cables.

The Prof didn’t have a Christmas jumper, but wore his traditional festive bobble-hat, designed to look like a very sorry, misshapen Christmas pudding with (naturally?) a big pom-pom on the top to match the one on Crazy Legs’ jumper.

In a scene with all the searing, suppressed homo-eroticism of  Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling nude  in the “Women in Love” film, the Prof and Crazy Legs stood nose-to-nose, gazing lovingly at each other, while taking turns to fondle each others pom-poms. It was only a shame no one had a clown’s horn to punctuate each convulsive squeeze.

It was perhaps as well that we left quickly after that, or we’d have needed to throw a bucket of cold water over the pair to separate them.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Along with Goose I eyed up what sounded like the perfect fusion of Bakewell Tart combined with Festive Mince Pie – a Bakewell Mince Slice. Genius!

Well almost, theoretically this revolutionary new confection should have been a synergistic blend of the best bits of a beloved staple of the cyclists café stop, combined with a uniquely novel and seasonal twist. Sadly we were both left disappointed, a clear case of one plus one equalling … err … one.

OGL’s Christmas jumper featured a homely Yule time scene of a roaring fire, decorated mantelpiece, Christmas tree and a sack for all the presents. Someone wondered aloud if the single sack was symbolic of OGL’s intimate encounter with a Cinelli stem (see: Stems, Scrotums and the Melancholy, Winking Dog Ride, Club Run, 27th June). I couldn’t help worrying that for the third week in a row we were forging links, no matter how tenuous, to despotic leaders with a penchant for eastward facing territorial aggrandisement.

Our travails of the day reminded us of Dabman’s first hard encounter with the tarmac to start the year with a bang, or more accurately a dull thump and crack. We again wondered how we still weren’t expecting any ice on the road after we’d stopped to push a stranded car out of a ditch only minutes beforehand.

Crazy Legs said he’d forbidden Dabman to ride again until at least May and related that in the NHS had agreed to let the broken collar bone heal “naturally”, so Dabman would probably spent the rest of his life looking somewhat unbalanced – unless of course he can contrive to fall and break something on the other side.

It was also agreed that he probably shouldn’t risk a trip to Paris or hang around Île de la Cité, in case he stirs up an unfriendly pitchfork wielding, torch carrying mob.

I was somewhat conscious of an elderly couple at the adjacent table, who were now surrounded by a mob of voluble, over-excited, gibbering and hooting club cyclists and hoped they weren’t going to be too offended. As they got up to leave however they told us they were England tandem champions in the 50’s and had thoroughly enjoyed listening to our endless, mindless banter. Well, that was unexpected.


 

ride 19 december
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

For the second time this year I set out in near dark, just as dawn was slowly leaking a pale light and some wan colour into the sky. The difference this time though was the temperature was already an exceptionally mild, totally unseasonable 12°C and rising.

Despite all the forecasts aligning like some modern-day Delphic Oracle, I didn’t quite trust their prophecies after last week’s “winter howling” and had my pockets loaded down with spare bits of kit that I never got to use including a gilet, spare gloves, a skullcap, toe covers and a buff. What is going on with the weather?

As it was I felt somewhat over-dressed in a long-sleeved base layer, windproof jacket, shorts and legwarmers.

Despite a club wide directive, I was not however wearing a Christmas jumper because:

  1. I’m a miserable curmudgeon. Bah, humbug!
  2. I ride an hour on my own either way to our meeting point, and thought I’d look even sadder plodding home alone in festive attire.
  3. I don’t actually own a Christmas jumper.
  4. I think there’s a time and place for Christmas jumpers, but this definitely wasn’t the time and I’ve yet to discover the place.
  5. Did I mention I was a curmudgeon?

Hey, maybe next year.

As I dropped down into the valley and made my way along to the river crossing, entire sets of street lights would blink out suddenly as I approached them and it felt like I was riding a wave of impenetrable darkness. Just a case of bad timing I guess, but it did feel rather strange.

Despite this I was able to revel a little in the warm temperature and utterly quiet, early morning roads as, after a week bereft of any cycling commutes I stretched my legs for the first time in what felt like an age.

I positively flew along to the meeting place and was the first there to see the arrival of all the festive funsters. G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg put on a splendid show, riding up in formation and resplendent in matching red and blue Christmas jumpers.

Son of… then admitted he’d borrowed his from his Dad. Just for the record I think it’s worth pausing and considering the fact that the granite hard, indomitable iron-man, G-Dawg has two Christmas jumpers.

Crazy Legs was the next to roll up, in a bright red jumper emblazoned with a large Rudolph head, replete with a massive pom-pom for a nose. Crazy Legs’ approach was very circumspect and tentative and you got the feeling he was ready to turn round and high-tail it home if he appeared to be the only one festively attired.


 

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Enflamed by thoughts of the Prof’s pom-pom, Crazy Legs has to resort to a cold shower to cool his ardour.

 

OGL’s jumper featured a fireplace complete with a sack for presents, the Prof wore a Christmas pudding hat and beZ disappointed by not wearing the threatened snowman onesie, but somewhat made up for this wearing a penguin jumper, complete with a hood featuring eyes and a beak.

The Red Max was one of the riders who took the opportunity of the ridiculously warm weather to wear shorts and a summer jersey, but had at least made the effort to decorate his top tube in tinsel (red of course). I reckoned this wasn’t particularly aerodynamic, but probably made him invisible to German radar.

Shoeless was dressed as an Elf, Laurelan wore a Christmas jumper and had attached some jingling bells and baubles to her stem, while Arnold I think had on some designer fashion-knitwear in luxury cashmere.


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The Prof got a little too excited as well.

 

All in all a very good effort, although I couldn’t help thinking Josher misunderstood the concept of a “Christmas jumper” and decided to just wear something his Granddad might once have received as an unwanted Christmas present.

I didn’t get a good look at this, but got the impression of a Bri-Nylon cardigan of an indeterminate, nondescript colour, complete with leatherette elbow patches, a chunky zipper with big ring-pull and baggy pockets to store your pipe and baccy in. Très chic (well, in the late 50’s anyway).

So it was that a suitable Advent group of 24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, none of us quite believing just how mild the weather was.


 

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Early Gallic version of the Christmas Jumper Ride

 

It was turning into a very pleasant, uneventful and relaxed ride, although everyone seemed to be having trouble with just how warm it was and soon gloves were being discarded, jackets unzipped or unshipped and belted around waists and the sleeves of all the Christmas jumpers were being rolled up.

We turned up a narrow country lane and found ourselves having to slow and single out to pass large groups of riders, finding yet more coming up behind us, and the roadsides nose-to-tail with 4×4’s and horse boxes.

We were riding through the middle of what seemed to be a massive organised hunt, although as I didn’t see any hounds around and everyone was in tweed rather than “pinks” or colours, I assume this was a Hunter Trial or some other obscure equestrian gathering.

We got lots of very cheery “Good morning’s” as we carefully threaded our way through the massed ranks of the Northumbrian landed gentry, all astride their monster horses (ok, they all look big to me) and our Christmas jumpers raised a smile or two and were declared “fraytfully amusing.”


 

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Next year I’ll take a leaf out of this guys book and ride with a complete Christmas tree

 

Arnold gagged on a cloud of, no doubt excruciatingly expensive perfume, as he passed one of the female riders and suggested any hounds might have some trouble picking up a scent with her around. I thought that perhaps she was the intended quarry and had overdone the perfume only to be able to leave an easily detectable trail.

I then rode past OGL who declared, “That’s a big hunt,” which I thought was quite uncharitable. I’m still not quite sure which individual he was referring to…

We finally cleared the traffic and ran up the Quarry Climb to turn for the café. As we were just shaking ourselves out for the final run in a large farm truck passed on the other side of the road. I’m not sure what happened next, but think there was a touch of wheels somewhere behind me, Laurelan came down hard and Red Max came down harder still and unfortunately right on top of her.

Behind them Cowin’ Bovril jammed on his disk brakes which stopped him so fiercely and unexpectedly he too toppled over before he could pull his cleats clear of the pedals.

As I turned around to ride back all I could see was Laurelan lying prone and totally unmoving on the wet tarmac, with much murmuring about broken hips and collar bones. Now everyone had an excuse to discard the jackets and jumpers they were overheating in and our downed rider was soon engulfed in all the excess clothing.


 

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Just prior to Dabmans tumble … pushing this car out of a ditch should have been all the warning we needed that the roads were icy

 

As we tried to get a signal and call for an ambulance, Laurelan started moving and climbed slowly and gingerly to her feet, carefully testing out her limbs and feeling her various injuries. I suggested if she was going to ride on to the café she might as well keep all the spare clothing on and would likely just bounce if she came down again.

As it was she seemed to have recovered with remarkable resilience and was soon ready to ride again, battered, bruised and scraped but apparently not suffering any major injury, although the back of her helmet was badly cracked.

I guess we’ll never know if the helmet saved her from a more serious injury, but at the risk of offending the anti-helmet brigade, I’m inclined to believe anything that lessens the impact of a clout to the back of the head can only be a good thing.

The Prof and Shouty pressed on as everyone regrouped, then G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg set off too. I wheeled around the group and took off in pursuit, trusting everyone behind would finally sort themselves out and follow on.

I caught up and slotted in behind the G-Dawg pack as we slalomed our way between numerous potholes and deep fissures cratering the road surface, slowly building up speed.

At the point when G-Dawg’s whirring fixie reached maximum velocity, Son of G-Dawg accelerated in pursuit of the Prof and Shouty and I pressed on, before slowing before the Snake Bends when I was caught by Red Max, Captain Black, Goose and G-Dawg for the final push to the café.

In the café, Laurelan was able to inspect the damage more closely and was given some wet wipes to try and scour the dirt and grit from her abraded elbows. Now that’s got to sting every time.

As we were leaving the café, Plumose Papuss stripped to the waist as he tried to lose a base-layer. The Red Max informed us we were lucky to be wearing dark glasses, preventing serious eye injury as even the weak sun was shatteringly bright as it bounced directly off pale, pale skin.

G-Dawg offered Plumose £20 if he’d ride home topless, like some deranged Elf in lycra Lederhosen, but luckily sense prevailed over monetary gain and we were spared further excesses of the flesh.

On the return trip up Berwick Hill I fell foul of one of the steel-tipped thorns we tend to grow in the hedgerows around here and dropped off the back with a rear wheel puncture. I was quite happy to wave everyone on, while I stopped to make repairs and start my lone trek for home a little early.

Even a sudden, sharp shower couldn’t dampen my spirits, although I did have a minor brain fart and spent 5 minutes trying to work out how to get the repaired wheel back into the bike – something I’ve done a hundred times and should be routine, but which left me momentarily flummoxed.

Finally resolving my unexpected dilemma, I happily struck out for home, ticking off the miles and wondering how long it would be until the next ride in such agreeable conditions.

Merry Christmas all.


YTD Totals: 6,234 km/ 3,873 miles with 69,011 metres of climbing.

 

Galibier Mistral Foul Weather Jacket Review


To be totally transparent from the off, I really like, own and very regularly use lots of Galibier kit including; shorts, tights, leg warmers, gloves, overshoes, a headband/bandana and a rain jacket. In fact they are responsible for my favourite lightweight gloves and their winter ones are pretty damn good too.

I find their products to be of good quality and durability at very affordable prices, although I feel they are sometimes let down by some strange aesthetic designs and decisions.

When I was looking for something a bit better at coping with the rain than the usual lightweight, waterproof but unbreathable rain jacket, they were my natural first choice.

From their website I discovered the Mistral being marketed as a foul weather jacket. This seemed to tick all the boxes in terms of breathability and triple-layer wet weather protection. Most comparable jackets were 2 or 3 times the £72 price, and the design of the Mistral promised “the wind, rain and cold protection of a jacket, but with the comfort of a jersey.”


 

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The Galibier Mistral Foul Weather Jacket

Galibier state that the specially sourced fabric of their jacket was designed for use by the German military, and given the traditional quality of German Army materiel, (think MG42 or Panzerkampwagen V), this sounded like a ringing endorsement to me.

With their usual efficient delivery service the jacket was soon in my hands. The first thing I noticed was the packaging – the Mistral came very neatly and impressively folded into its own, perfectly serviceable Galibier musette and one of their buffs was included free for good measure.

Perhaps this latter addition was Galibier’s way of addressing one of my own slight gripes with the jacket, but more of that later.


 

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Classy packaging

 

The product itself looks very well made, double-stitched throughout and with the Galibier name prominently embroidered on the left hand breast – a big quality step up from the usual short-lived, less than durable transfers they typically use to brand their gear.

In minimalist black with a contrasting red cuffs, collar and zip and a matching red “skunk stripe” down the back, the design is neat, serviceable and looks the part, although it’s not especially distinctive in either cut or colour and is never going to engender any “I want one of those” product lust.

The material of the jacket is the interesting stuff, it does feel akin to pulling on a jersey, but the fabric is thicker, somewhat stiffly elastic and quite smooth and slick to the touch.


 

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The triple membrane construction

 

There are 3 very deep pockets with reflective trim and mesh bottoms, presumably because the fabric is so waterproof water would pool in the pockets if they didn’t have an outlet.

These pockets are excellent – one of the best features of the jacket because although deep and wonderfully capacious, the taut elasticity of the fabric means they don’t lose their shape and hold everything safely and securely with very little bulging or movement. Ideal for winter rides where I tend to carry a few more tools, kit and spares.


 

rear-pocket
The pockets are just fabulous

 

Pulling on the jacket feels very much akin to pulling on a winter weight, race-fit jersey, and you do have to actively pull it on – it’s close cut, with no excess material to flap around in the wind. Once on it feels very warm, supportive and enfolding.

The jacket has what Galibier refer to as a diaphragm cut, quite short on the torso, so there’s no uncomfortable bunching up of loose material once you’re tucked into a riding position.

This had me somewhat self-consciously tugging the front down when I first tried the jacket on, but it comes into its own once you swing a leg over your bike. In contrast the tail is slightly dropped to give additional protection for your lower back.


 

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The cut comes into its own once you’re on the bike

 

The sleeves appear long enough to cope with even my gibbon-like limbs with material to spare, so there’s no excuse for having any annoying gap between cuff and glove. As with the body the sleeves are quite close fitting and supportive – you will inevitably have to pull them inside out as you take the jacket off.

The inner cuff, in the contrasting red fleecy material, seals the sleeves effectively from the wind, but experience has taught me these cuffs are not made of the same water resistant material as the shell, and, if accidently exposed, will soak up and retain water like a sponge.

The zipper appears to be of good, robust quality and sits in front of a windproof “storm flap” of protective material. There’s also a neat “zip garage” built into the top of the collar, which would perhaps be a good idea, except I don’t think I’ll ever use it. This is because, (my one criticism of the cut of the jacket), I find the collar too tall, restrictive and uncomfortable so never zip it fully closed. I’ve often wondered if this is a recognised shortcoming and the reason Galibier supply a free buff with the jacket!

First impressions are overwhelmingly positive, so how does the jacket actually perform?

My first few rides in the Mistral are short commutes to work where I paired the jacket with just a thin base layer. To wear, the garment is supremely comfortable, so much so that you forget that you’re actually wearing it and I can’t think of a better endorsement than that.

It’s also impressively windproof and warm – almost too warm in any temperature over 11°c to 12°c especially, though not surprisingly, when climbing hills. It also pleasingly shrugged off any showers or light rain, and when caught in a sudden downpour I could see the water beading on the surface and running away without soaking through the fabric.

I’ve since comfortably worn the jacket with a double base layer in temperatures (taking the wind chill into account) of -1°c to -2°c, and feel it will cope with just about anything the British winter can throw at me just by regulating what I wear under it.

The jacket is also highly breathable, so even if I’ve worked up a sweat I’m confident this will eventually dissipate through the material so you’re not left with a cold, clammy and chilled feeling for the rest of the ride.

My one disappointment has been with how the Mistral performed when faced with heavy and persistent rain. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect the jacket to keep me totally dry throughout the ride, but I wasn’t expecting for it to surrender quite so meekly and quickly.

To be fair I think you’d struggle to find more testing conditions than the very heavy, very persistent rain we faced on our club run of 7th November. A list of the Strava titles my companions used to label their rides may give some indication of what we faced; “Biblical Rainfall,” “Ou Est Mon Bateau?” “The Life Aquatic” and “Yo, Noah, Where Art Thou?” being just a few selections.

By the time I reached our meeting point after about an hour of riding into the downpour I could already feel cold water slowly creeping through the jacket, especially down the arms and back.

Now Galibier are perfectly honest and don’t claim that the Mistral is 100% waterproof, in fact there website clearly states that “The softshell is highly water resistant, but due to the superior body stretch of the material, the seams cannot be internally taped, so in a downpour, the rain will eventually get through.”

This being the case it makes me wonder why they then inserted the contrasting red skunk stripe down the back of the jacket, effectively adding two full length, unprotected seams to one of the most exposed areas and sacrificing functionality for aesthetics.

After another couple of hours of prolonged, unrelenting driving rain and high pressure road spray, the Mistral was pretty much soaked through and everything under it was decidedly damp. The jacket was surprisingly heavy when I took it off in the café to try and let my inner layers dry out a little, and not particularly comfortable to pull on again when it was time to leave. Despite this however it did serve its primary function – keeping me warm throughout the ride.

In conclusion then, the Galibier Mistral is a well-made, very competitively priced and supremely comfortable winter jacket. Although it isn’t going to keep you dry in the most demanding of conditions it should be able to cope with all but the heaviest rainfall and, no matter what, will remain windproof and keep you reasonably warm.


 

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The Mistral jacket, not quite as waterproof as I would have liked, but fast becoming an essential piece of winter kit

 

I’m happy enough with its water-resistant properties enough to forgo carrying a separate waterproof, although I would probably look for a different solution or additional protection if I’m likely to face prolonged and very heavy rain throughout a ride.

Its versatility has meant that I’ve pretty much abandoned all other winter jackets in favour of my Mistral and I guess that means I’ll soon find out how durable it is too.


Mistral foul weather jacket – £72.00 from Galibier (www.galibier.cc)

<<Click Here>>

All photos from galibier.cc


The Texas Chainring Massacre and the Road to Cheesecake.


Club Run, Saturday 31st October, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    107 km/66 miles with 884 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 07 minutes

Group size:                                           30 riders with no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Astonishingly mild.

Main topic of conversation at the start: As I rolled up to the meeting place the BFG told me I looked like Fausto Coppi. Normally I would have been insufferably pleased at such a compliment as surely no rider has ever looked as elegant as the languid and composed Il Campionissimo. In this instance however it just made me question the BFG’s suspect eyesight.

My suspicion’s regarding his lack of ocular acuity were further confirmed when he told me he spent most of last Sunday’s club run admiring another riders leg warmers, which he thought were the acme of form-fitting apparel and style, perfectly moulded to the riders physique and showing every bulging muscle and sinew. He was just about to ask where he could buy a pair of leg warmers just like them, when the Prof pointed out he was actually looking at the legs of one of the black guys who was only wearing shorts.

The BFG then went on to tell me that in his world torque wrenches and washers were all redundant, information the Offshore Safety Directive Regulator may be interested in.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Red Max kept us royally entertained, first with the tales of last Sunday’s club run when an encounter with a local Tri-Club led to a bit of competitive drag racing that blew the two groups apart and caused chaos down Berwick Hill, or as Zippy commented near the road to the Cheese Cake. He did correct himself and obviously meant the Cheese Farm, but I like the thought of a road to Cheese Cake so much that I’ve pinched it.

Red Max then moved on to his ultra-competitive, turbo-training sessions with the Monkey Butler Boy (aka Red Max Junior) which have seemingly become a source of marital discord. These used to be played out across dual turbo’s set up in front of the TV, with the protagonists vying to see who can pedal fastest while simultaneously trying to frag each other online in Call of Duty. Unfortunately a liberal coating of oil to a new chain led to the last contest spraying an arc of oil from chainset to ceiling, like the spray of blood in a bad slasher movie.

To compound the issue, Mrs. Max returned home one night to find Max and the Monkey Butler Boy sitting in the middle of the living room floor with Max’s dirty bike spread out in pieces all around them. Max couldn’t quite understand what the furore was all about, as he phlegmatically suggested, “It wasn’t as if we were watching hardcore porn while she was out.” Needless to say bikes and bikers are now banned from the living room.

With OGL being absent we looked to Grover for oberleutnant and enforcer duties. He was late appearing in the café queue, perhaps as he was outside inspecting bikes and taking down the names of all those without mudguards.

We idly wondered if other cycling clubs were run like the Cosa Nostra, with an all-powerful Capo, but didn’t talk about it too loudly in case we woke up to find a sawn-off set of handlebars sharing the bed with us.


Ride Profile
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

And so it’s time put away bright shiny carbon things and coax the reluctant and recalcitrant Peugeot winter bike out of “le sulk”. I feel that half the battle with continuing to ride throughout the winter is not to have a bike that you hate so much you can’t bring yourself to swing a leg over it, that’s just putting one more barrier in the way of riding – as if the rain, wind, freezing cold, ice, dark, pot-holed and filthy, crappy roads aren’t disincentive enough. (Remind me again why I do this?)

So we’ve entered a period of entente cordiale where I’m trying to make the Peugeot feel loved and wanted, after all it’s going to be a long few months where I rely on it. On Saturday for example we celebrated the birthday of Philippe de Vitry, French composer, poet, and theorist and breakfasted on pain au raisin and warm brioche. Meanwhile Alizée, Mylene Farmer, The Dø, and Yelle have all been on heavy rotation on the iPod.

(In keeping with the Gallic theme, on Friday night I watched The Returned – it’s started a bit slow and it’s not quite up to the standards of the first series yet, but it does still feature super-creepy kid Victor, who bears a striking resemblance to Alberto Contador.)


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Alberto Contador as creepy revenant Victor in The Returned and Swann Nambotin (yes, really) as Alberto Contador in the new Steak Out movie. (Sorry).

I’ve even tried to curry favour with the Peugeot through lavish, hopeful gifts– gone are the no-name brakes for something with a bit more stopping power and I’ve recently bought a new pair of shiny Cinelli bar end plugs and some Schwalbe Durano tyres. I haven’t fitted the tyres yet but hope will prove as puncture resistant as the Gatorskin Ultra’s are have been, while providing a little more grip.


Le Peugeot
Le Peugeot, Waiting for the Winter – as the (rather fabulous) Popguns once sang.

So that’s it – we’re all geared up for winter and good to go. Now let’s see what the weather’s going to throw at us…

If today is an example though, I think we’ll be all right. Heavy rain throughout Friday left the roads wet and with lots of surface water everywhere, but the day was mild, generally still and pleasant.


Fausto Coppi not only epitomised grace and elegance on the bike, but could keep the peloton in stitches with his famous preying mantis impersonation.
Fausto Coppi not only epitomised grace and elegance on the bike, but kept the peloton in stitches with his famous preying mantis impersonation.

The kit was pretty much the same as last week, long sleeve jersey, base layer, shorts leg warmers and long-fingered gloves. The only difference was I swapped the Belgian booties for waterproof shoe covers. Yet again I was surprised to see a number still out in their shorts. Brave, foolish, or just considerably younger than I am, I guess.

OGL, G-Dawg and a few others were up in Jockland for the Braveheart Dinner and with Crazy Legs suffering from sustained, serious jet lag it was left to Red Max and Taffy Steve to lead us out into the unknown. A good group of 30 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and took the road out west.

Our regular lane out into the countryside was awash with debris; gravel, leaves, hedge trimmings and who knows what else, and sure enough we had only left it a couple of mile behind when Shoeless pulled over with a puncture. We rolled past as he stopped to make repairs, and turned off the main route, ironically on the road to Cheese Cake.

I was sitting comfortably perched on the crossbar, chatting with Taffy Steve while we waited and just happened to mention that I was surprised we only had the one puncture as I idly stabbed a thumb into my front tyre. This turned out to be a big mistake as the tyre was suspiciously squishy and would have given a ride I could only describe as plush.

Whipping out a new tube I set to work, and I was still wrestling to replace a particularly recalcitrant tyre by the time Shoeless rejoined. Zardoz then took pity on my effete weakness (damn, I broke a nail as well) and utilised his “pincers of steel” fingers to neatly and effortlessly pop the tyre back onto the rim for me.

I declined Crazy Legs’s kind offer of a lend of his molto piccolo, Blackburn Airstick and used Taffy Steves mighty frame pump to give my upper body an intense workout, harder than any of the pedalling I done up to that point. (Following the Crazy Legs tradition, I popped my track pump onto the tyre when I got home to discover my considerable and most strenuous efforts had driven a massive, awe inspiring 50 psi into the tyre.)

Under way again we passed the landed gentry, striding out intent on slaughtering the local wildlife. Usually this takes the form of a hunt – all horse faced people on, well, horse-faced horses (what did you expect?). This week however it was a shooting party, all goofy tweed jackets, baggy, three quarter-length “trizers”, flat caps and shiny Purdey’s, strolling down the middle of the road and out to “bag a grice or two.” They seemed unconscionably cheerful about what they were doing.


What, what, Old Boy - I can't shoot grice in these trizers. (With apologies to Steve Bell)
“What, what, Old Boy – I can’t shoot grice in these trizers.” (With apologies to Steve Bell)

We split at the junction to the Quarry, with a few of the racing snakes heading for a long, fast descent and then a corresponding long haul back uphill. I noticed the FNG from last week got sucked in by the Siren Song of the Racing Snakes and went with them. I silently wished him luck.

Split made, the pace was pushed higher and higher and I sat on Zardoz’s wheel as he dragged us up toward the front. With the group heading for the “Snake Bends” route to the café (not favourable terrain for me) I decided to blast the Quarry Climb instead, and hit the front on the last steep ramp, managing to pull clear and hang on with my nose in front as we crested and swung right. I even managed to net a Strava PR of 4:41 for the climb.

As we hit a long drag, followed by a few fast descents I again found myself on the front negotiating a particularly hazardous, gravel-strewn corner. I drove on through a couple of junctions and more slight rises that all felt like major cols and hung out front until the road levelled and Red Max led the charge past me and down to the Snake Bends. Great fun.


Another puny weakling from the waist up struggles to force more than 50 psi into a tyre.
Another puny weakling from the waist up struggles to force more than 50 psi into a tyre.

On the ride home Shoeless and I commiserated together about having to repair punctures in front of everyone and amidst all the sharp intakes of breath, head-shaking, tutting and “You don’t do it like that” comments. Still, it’s character forming … isn’t it?

So far, so good…


YTD Totals: 5,322 km/ 3,260 miles with 60,139 metres of climbing.

Random Rambles and Esoteric Observations # 4 – Planet X vs. Rapha – The Throwdown


A very personal viewpoint…

Trying to find some clever way of segmenting buying behaviour within the cycling market for a colleague developing a new business concept, I half-jokingly suggested we could measure attitudes to spending on a scale where one end was represented by Rapha and the other end Planet X.

Then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that perhaps my mad idea held more than a grain of truth, and the two brands do in fact occupy completely opposite ends of the price spectrum.


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Rapha is a brand that so desperately wants to be seen as niche and elitist that it almost hurts, and I suspect the overblown prices are very much part of its appeal to a certain type of customer. While I don’t doubt its products are high quality, well-designed and built to last, I do have trouble believing they are 7 or 8 times better than the competition, which is what some of the pricing implies.

Planet X on the other hand trumpets no nonsense prices and its website and stores are replete with some astonishing deals. In fact they first came to my attention through one of their clearance sales, when I picked up a pair of my favourite Vittoria Corsa tyres for £9.99 each instead of the rrp of £49.99. Everyone loves a bargain, right?

But it’s not just the product and price positioning that sets Rapha and Planet X apart, they also seem fundamentally different on many other levels.

Take the brand names for a start: Rapha sounds like a somewhat louche, semi-successful, minor British film star. One of those slightly posh, thespian gentlemen with limited acting ability, who carefully manage to just about play themselves for most roles and manage to retain celebrity B-list status only by dint of constant tabloid headlines earned for all the wrong reasons.

On the other hand, where do you begin with Planet X? It’s a corny, half-baked, creaky, black and white Sci-Fi movie that wants to achieve “so bad it’s good” cult status and cool, but is just ultimately cheesy and unremittingly nerdy.


Whenever I see the Planet X logo I automatically make this unfortunate association...
Whenever I see the Planet X logo I automatically make this unfortunate association…

Rapha borrows heavily (some would say steals cynically and unashamedly) from the iconic heritage of vintage, continental cycling, the epic pain and suffering of cycling’s classic races and hardmen racers, all shot in black and white: straining bodies, serious faces and nary a smile to be seen. It’s such an overly-serious, po-faced approach – where’s the fun and the joy that’s so inherent to cycling?

This is a mythological version of cycling as it never was, all suffering and gladiatorial combat – and to me it’s so obviously a parody and fake in its own right that I’m surprised it’s still being parodied by others – and all without even the slightest whiff of irony.

Planet X on the other hand is all gruff, straight talking, down to earth stuff. A spade will always be a spade, never a lovingly hand-crafted, ergonomically designed earth shearing, turning and excavation tool, forged from high impact, low carbon tensile steel with a close-grained, oiled and carefully pollarded English yew shaft that’s been lovingly nurtured to maturity in the ancient and Royal Forest of Dean. Phew! And breathe. Planet X is the Ronseal of the cycling world – doing exactly what it says on the tin.

Rapha colours are unremittingly flat and dull, relying heavily on over liberal and much imitated use of black (as the new white, brown, grey, orange, black etc. – just delete as appropriate). They are minimalist to the point of bland. Their signature; the single, contrasting coloured band on the sleeve, leg or whatever, no longer looks clever to me (was it ever?) – just strangely unimaginative and rather tired looking. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Planet X designs on the other hand have none of the studied cool of Rapha and tend toward the garish and over-the-top – check out their Carnac team kit and bikes as a prime example.


Carnac Team Kit
Carnac team kit – you can’t say it’s not distinctive.

Once stalwarts of the British pro scene via the RaphaCondor outfit, Rapha have moved up to the big time and are now the kit providers of choice to the elite of the elite pro teams, the one with allegedly the biggest budget in the peloton, and a team that is perhaps as divisive as the Rapha brand itself.

You don’t have to stray too far into the troll infested backwoods of the Internet to find that Sky are unremittingly seen as the bad guys, sucking the soul out of cycling through (shock! horror!) meticulous planning, innovative methods, spending as much budget as they can prise out of sponsors hands, employing the most talented riders, structured training, organisation, attention to detail and riding to their strengths, (all ladled with lashings of dark, innuendo about cheating and drug-taking.)

Rapha themselves have managed to take one of the duller team kits in the pro ranks and somehow make it even more boring and bland, (or understated, cool and minimalist, depending on your own point of view.) Oh, and then they’ve added those shudderingly hideous national flags to the sleeve cuffs for good measure … well, only one sleeve cuff, obviously.


There may be people out there who like this - but I'm not one of them.
There may be people out there who like this – but I’m not one of them.

Planet X on the other hand are unheralded sponsors of a host of domestic, young, up-and-coming, teams and individuals, kids, men and women, all flying pretty much under the radar, all in real need of support. They appear to do this with the sole intent of nurturing the grass-roots of the sport, although, if they’re really clever, perhaps they might be able to squeeze some small marketing return out of their investment.

Rapha are the perfect, text book example of how to build a premium, niche brand and as a marketing man I should be much, much more appreciative of their tight control over product and image and how they’ve created a brand with a real and enduring cachet. Their heritage may be at best overstated and at worst manufactured – but it’s obviously working for them and their target market.

There’s a lot to admire about Rapha – they are a relatively young, dynamically growing, internationally recognised and highly successful British brand that is seen as world leading and is much loved and valued by the only people who actually matter – their customers. I’m sure on many levels their devotees (Raphalites in my jargon) enjoy the scorn of their detractors as much as the product and brand image they are actually buying into.

From the outside Planet X sometimes appear a bit disorganised and all over the shop, willing to jump at any opportunity and conveying the wiles and opportunism of a wheeler-dealer market trader, a Del Boy made good? They appear content to be seen as bumbling along with no particular destination in mind and without any kind of blueprint for world domination.


vans


It’s difficult to imagine anyone actually coveting a Planet X product, and if they do the value for money pricing means it’s an itch that’s fairly easily scratched. Many, many people however will be more than happy to buy and use and endorse their products wholeheartedly.

Both companies have owners who profess a love of cycling, but for Simon Mottram of Rapha it’s the pure and unalloyed love of road racing. His avowed aim is to promote the sport he loves, and he wants it to be as big as football. It’s an interesting point of view, but I’m not sure it’s remotely attainable, or more importantly, even the least bit desirable.


“I think road cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world, and the toughest sport in the world, and I think it should be the biggest sport in the world. I think more people should do cycling than watch football.”
“I think road cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world, and the toughest sport in the world, and I think it should be the biggest sport in the world. I think more people should do cycling than watch football.” (Photo from Cycling Weekly)

I also struggle to forgive him his man-crush on Marco Pantani, who Mottram sees as a tragic icon of style(!) and the epitome of cool, while I just think of him as a fragile, ungainly, rocket-fuelled cheat, deserving as much approbation as a certain gentleman from Texas.

On the other side of the coin, Planet X is owned and run by Dave Loughran. A bit of a mongrel in terms of cycling background, first and foremost a triathlete, and then a mountain biker who has dabbled in dirt bikes, mountain bikes, fixies, or anything else that’ll turn a profit. By all accounts Loughran is an abrasive, hard-nosed, salesman and a bit of a wheeler-dealer who admires Mike Ashley of all people.

This is a man with (judging purely from what I’ve read, you understand) so many traits I don’t admire that I can’t say I have an interest in meeting him and I certainly can’t imagine myself ever working for him. Despite this he’s made a good impression on me (ironically in an excellent article written by Jack Thurston in Rapha’s “corporate” magazine Rouleur) and I’m really interested in seeing what he does next. It was while being interviewed for this article that, almost in an aside about business growth really stuck and resonated with me.

I can remember way back in my university days trying to write a Marketing Communications assignment and weave into it the universal truths of Nietzche’s writings and the startling insight of W B Yeats poetry, wrapped around a lengthy discourse on the largely unreported hijacking, total control and manipulation of the free press by the military during the American invasion of Grenada. (Pretentious. Moi? Look there’s only so much you can write about J.K. Galbraith, Drucker or Kotler without becoming deathly boring to yourself and, surely your tutors too…)

Around this time I unerringly stumbled across a lecture by E.P. Thompson which either coloured my thinking, or simply gave life to already ingrained beliefs. Thompson argued that the establishment controls the frame of reference in which all the political discourse takes place and stifles true debate so that, for example, it becomes a very narrow argument about which political party can best deliver economic growth and never an exploration of whether the blind pursuit of growth is actually necessary, or in the best interests of the country and its populace.

He likened this to a car, “bumming down the motorway with an accelerator pedal, but no steering … we rush on, faster or slower, but can’t take exits, go somewhere else, or even stop and turnaround.”

In 30 years of working for and on behalf of dozens, if not hundreds of businesses, both massive and micro, corporate conglomerates to Mom & Pop family-run affairs, I’ve seen the same single-minded, determined obsession with growth and never yet encountered an organisation that strayed far from the strategy of making as much money and profit as humanly (and occasionally inhumanely) possible.

Every business and many other types of organisation too, seem to have a default setting that says they have to measure themselves purely on financial performance. Year on year they set themselves bigger and bigger growth targets, regardless of whether this is necessary or actually in their best interests, regardless of the mental and physical well-being of the workers and the management and ignoring if this will actually improve what they deliver to their customers.

Now, many, many years later I’ve actually found a successful business man with a different view and judging from the articles, growth for growth’s sake also seems to be a bit of a bugbear for Loughran too.

He’s quoted talking about the plans to sell off his company, “All I’ve had for the last three years is ‘what’s our growth plan’: growth, growth, growth, how are we striving for growth? Growth became a number. We grew phenomenally in the last year and it became a pressure cooker of: ‘How do we build 300 bikes a week, how do we build 350, how do we build 400?’ It was all because my management team was driving for a buy-out and they had to show to all the vulture capitalists a £10, £15, £20, £25 million success story”.

And then he capped it all with this piece of what sounded like very heartfelt, hard-won wisdom. “We can build 300 bikes a week now and everyone can have a great life and the mechanics don’t have any pressure and we can have good availability. If we strove for 500 bikes a week we wouldn’t have the supply chain, everybody would hate each other, it wouldn’t be a nice company.” (My emphasis).

He then went on to talk about setting up an employee share ownership system that will eventually mean the company is co-owned by staff and an independent trust set up to safeguard the workforce. Sounds great – I’ll be watching.

And there you have it, a very rambling discourse on why I’m more interested in what Mr. Loughran does next, rather than Mr. Mottram’s next step toward world-domination. It’s also one reason why I’m more X-traterrestrial than a Raphalite – you see it isn’t just because I’m as tight as a wallaby’s sphincter.


Slip Slidin’ Away

Club Run, Saturday 24th October, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    113 km/70 miles with 1,021 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 19 minutes

Group size:                                           26 riders with 1 FNG

Weather in a word or two:               Chilly and blustery.

 

Main topic of conversation at the start: The Prof turned up on one of his vintage, small-wheeled convert-a-bikes, a pre-war, iron model that had somehow survived the cull of frying pans and railings in the drive for scrap metal to build more Spitfires.

This model came replete with a chainring the size of a Frisbee and after being repeatedly asked what size it was the Prof had to resort to counting its teeth. This kept him (and all his fingers and toes) occupied for a good 5 minutes.

He then took to covetously stroking his very worn, super-smooth saddle, and then the saddle of the bike next to him to compare the two. Unfortunately this bikes rider, our FNG, was sitting on his saddle at the time and I had to explain this wasn’t some weird, North East cycle club hazing, or initiation routine involving the fondling of each new guy’s posterior.

Taffy Steve, having wrapped his titanium love-child up in cotton wool and settled it down for a long hibernation, used some of the ire generated by having to ride his thrice-cursed winter bike to curse me in turn for gambling with the weather and having the audacity to turn up on Reg.

In my defence I explained my Peugeot winter bike had just given a very Gallic shrug and said, “Non.” He reminded me what happened last year when I pushed riding the good bike too long, and trashed it sliding out on a corner and taking him down with me.

Good point? Yes.

Prescient? Hmm, maybe.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Taffy Steve was extolling the virtues of the Rolo and Toblerone tray bake. I was expecting something that looked like a 3D Playstation controller, with little pyramids and spheres emerging like an exotic countline Venus out of a sea of chocolate, (□Δ○Δ○□), but it was flat and kind of dull, so I passed.

Discussing the case of a couple of local Sport and Psychology students who’d become seriously ill after OD’ing on massive quantities of self-administered caffeine, Ether suggested some very simple rules for experiments that even a Sport and Psychology student might be able to comprehend:

Step 1.    Test on small furry critter. If adverse effects occur, stop.

Step 2.    Test on a friend. If adverse effects occur, stop.

Step 3.    If all previous indicators are positive, perhaps there may be a case for self-administered testing. If a positive outcome is indicated, make sure you understand how to calculate and measure out the right quantities, or have someone on hand (your Mum, maybe or another responsible adult) to help. Taking a small dose of caffeine to sharpen the mind enough to measure out the correct quantities is perhaps not recommended.

OGL stopped by to tell us that as the clocks were going back one hour to account for the rather strangely titled “UK Daylight Saving Time,” then club run times would also change. Sunday Club Runs will now meet up at 09.30 for a 09.30 start, although the time for Saturday runs will continue to be 09.00, obviously for a 09.15 start. Huh?

I await with great interest the miraculous change in cyclist behaviour that’s going to see our Sunday runs’ meet up at 09.30 and be anywhere near ready to roll out any time before 09.44.


Ride Profile
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

I managed to commute by bike on four out of five days in a vain attempt to try and make up for missing the club run last week. With my ratbag MTB in the LBS for a desperately needed service, this was mainly achieved astride the Peugeot winter bike, although it did include a novel, but ultimately unsuccessful experiment with a single-speed hack that turned into an uphill duathlon when the chain kept slipping off under pressure.


duathlon
My self-imposed duathlon had nothing to recommend it.

Having eagerly watched the weather forecasts change on a daily basis, Saturday dawned, cold, blustery and grey, with the threat of a few chilly showers, but without the likelihood of any prolonged rain. A gamble then, but having had enough of the Peugeot for one week I felt I was owed one last blast on the carbon steed.

Perhaps more by luck than good judgement I got the clothing right for once; long sleeved base layer and jersey, shorts, leg warmers, thick socks, Belgian booties and long-fingered gloves. I even defied the weather gods and decided against packing a waterproof for that “just in case” scenario.


Non
“Non”

This week in the People’s Republic of Yorkshire, what the locals like to refer to as “Gods Own Country” –along with, oh at least a dozen other places that I know of dotted around the globe – (they may be the “chosen” of God, but they get no prizes for originality) – the venerable Toshi San is busy looking for a new club after bitter internecine fighting and a bloody coup of senior members ripped his old one apart.

One group he trialled uses its Faecesbook page to not only update ride information, but provide weather forecasts and recommendations about what to wear! Toshi San was somewhat bemused by this, declaring that he’s been able to dress himself since his schooldays and grown lads and lasses shouldn’t need to be told what to wear.

If he’d turned up at our meeting point he might well have reconsidered, there were at least 3 or 4 riders still in shorts, with legs marbled like corned beef, several more with bare hands tucked firmly into armpits, while the Prof wore a rain-jacket which he later admitted kept him constantly on the threshold of over-heating.

It was then a fairly decent turnout of 24 lads and lasses, several blatantly defying the elements, who pushed off, clipped in and headed out, with a couple of late comers tagging onto the back of our line as we rolled away.

These included the luckless Dabman, still less than sanguine about riding in a group after suffering a broken collar bone when he was brought off by another rider during our last “Man Down” incident. This had closely followed his recovery from a broken wrist when he went over on the ice on a winter run out. He later admitted he’d just come out for a confidence-building, solo ride, but saw us leaving and decided he might as well tag along anyway.

I slotted in alongside one of the university students who I didn’t recognise as a Saturday club run regular and got chatting to him about Amsterdam, Copenhagen, postgraduate law degrees (as you do) and (inevitably) the weather. Somewhere along the line he mentioned he was a little concerned about a mismatched rear tyre that didn’t seem to be affording him much grip.

The ride was visited by a few short lived light rain showers, that didn’t really dampen our enjoyment, but did just enough to make the road surfaces slimy and slippery. Rounding a fairly innocuous corner my companion was just telling me he could feel his rear wheel stepping-out on the bend when there was a clatter, a thud and a thump as three or four riders in a line behind us all went down.


Slip Slidin


I turned around to find several bikes strewn across the road and Ovis curled up around his wrist which had taken the brunt of his fall. I did a quick double-check – but thankfully there was no stray farmyard livestock around him needing to be cornered and corralled. I recovered his bike for him, to find both brake levers now pointing sharply inward like the converging guns on a fighter, giving him point harmonisation at about 30 metres from his front wheel, or an enemy bogie.

I was also somewhat concerned to see Dab Man had assumed an all too familiar position, sitting to one side of the road with his bike abandoned on the other and sporting a much muddied and streaked shoulder on an otherwise clean white jersey. He assured me he was ok and was at pains to explain that (again) it wasn’t his fault.

Luckily all of the damage seemed fairly superficial, although I suspect there may be a few sore bodies later on as a consequence of all the unbridled man-meets-road action. We managed to bang Ovis’s brake levers back around to give his bike some semblance of normality, and he wiped the blood from his brow, pocketed his smashed specs and pressed bravely on.

Not surprisingly at the split all those who had hit the deck opted for the shorter, more direct route to the café, along with the unlikely accompaniment of the Red Max. This had me wondering if the once irrepressible Red Max is starting to feel threatened by the improving strength and form of the Monkey Butler Boy, a.k.a. Red Max Junior. Dare I suggest he cut short his ride because he wanted to keep a little extra something back for their planned jaunt out together on Sunday?

As if relieved and reprieved from escaping the crash, the remainder of the group pressed on at some pace, occasionally splintering and reforming across a number of climbs and descents. At one point beZ skipped lightly past me on a hill and wondered aloud if I’d started a slightly worrying trend for wearing Belgian national colours.


belgians
Watch out, here come the Belgians!

Enough people then rode up to ask me if I’d gone down in the crash that I began to feel equal parts paranoia and survivors guilt. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on their part?

As I crested the Quarry Climb I could feel the rear wheel losing traction as I rocked out of the saddle, so eased off and decided instead to save a little for the last climb up to the Snake Bends. I tucked in behind the leaders as we swept down to the T-junction, then on the first rise after the turn I jumped over Keel, and left him behind as I pounded onwards, trying to to keep the momentum going on the long drag up to the next junction.

As I closed on the junction however Taffy Steve cruised effortlessly up alongside on the thrice-cursed winter bike, with a, “Is that it?” quizzical look and I realised I hadn’t dropped anyone and it wasn’t going to be my day.

Together with Taffy Steve we fruitlessly tried chasing G-Dawg down through the side lanes, while others took the more direct route to the café, the pressing need for cake outweighing the unpleasantness of battling with the high-speed traffic along the main road.

On leaving the café I dropped to the back of the first group on the road home, occasionally chatting with a still chipper, if slightly begrimed Dabman and Cushty. We were wondering where the rest of the group were, how much of a handicap they’d given us and just where exactly they would catch and overtake us.

It was actually later than we thought when an express driven by Shoeless and G-Dawg steamed past. I swung onto the back of this train and rode it through to my turn off, where I was dumped ungraciously into a stiff headwind for the lone grind home.

Hmm, winter bikes only next week? (Maybe.)


YTD Totals: 5,322 km/ 3,260 miles with 60,139 metres of climbing.